The Monument is “haunting, “painful”, “beautiful”, and “vitally important” on stage in Toronto
When Nina Lee Aquino, Artistic Director of Factory Theatre, presented her opening night speech for The Monument she said that Factory Theatre is becoming known for bringing new life to Canadian plays. With the work they’ve done with staging The Monument by Colleen Wagner, a play that originally was shunned and despised by critics, it’s abundantly clear that Factory Theatre is giving life to Canadian plays that need to be seen, especially now when the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women is at an all time high.
In The Monument, Stetko (Augusto Bitter) is a soldier held prisoner by Mejra (Tamara Podemski), an Indigenous woman and mother, who now holds in her hands the life and fate of a man guilty of the murder and rape of more women than she can count. Throughout this 90-minute story, rage and torment fuel Mejra forward — she could just kill him, that would be easy, but in doing so Stetko would never understand the magnitude of the crimes he’s committed. He would never feel a portion of the pain he has caused.
The heart and soul of this story is the relationship — the bitter, angry, raw and uncomfortable relationship — that is forged between Mejra and Stetko where Stetko gradually and begrudgingly learns to see the lives of the women he took through their eyes. Mejra, in essence, drills it into him through the blinding fury one can only truly experience as a mother who has lost her daughter.
There is no glossing over the fact that The Monument is hard to watch. It is painful, it is triggering, it is cathartic to watch, but it is necessary. It is vitally important now to stand for the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and to show that a silent genocide will not be tolerated.
Having watched this, I have the utmost respect for the work that Podemski has put into her work as Mejra. First off, it is absolutely exhausting to be propelled by that much anger and torment for the duration of this show and to do it for six shows a week blows my mind. I’m having trouble putting into words the impact that Podemski’s character had on me, but I can say that it was profound.
Juxtaposing that is Bitter’s Stetko; it took me a bit longer to feel connected with him. That’s to be expected–he is a murderer and a rapist after all–and his fondness for describing the fine details of the young woman he has strung up to a tree awakens flashes of the same rage that Mejra feels. I commend Bitter for the work he’s put into Stetko, and though I felt a strong resistance to the sing-songy way he first described the atrocious acts he committed, I slowly began to understand his need for self preservation and the gradual acceptance of what he’s done.
The Monument is also visually beautiful to watch as it is painful. My very first look at the stage even before the show started was my first sign that I was about to witness something truly special. Elahe Marjovi’s set is a visual masterpiece to behold: the stage, set with a leveled riser in the center, is covered with earthiness of the forest ground, hauntingly lit and with braided ropes suspended from the ceiling as trees. The transitional music and equally eerie vocals created by Deanna H. Choi paired with Louise Guinard’s lighting created the perfect accent.
The final scene, and what is in essence a tribute and continuation of The REDress Project, is what did it in for me and ensured that I would not be leaving the theatre dry-eyed. After the final curtain and a well-deserved standing ovation, I was happy to see I wasn’t the only one. I don’t only recommend seeing The Monument, but I insist that you do.
- The Monument is playing at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St) until April 1, 2018.
- Performances run Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm with Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm.
- Tickets are $30, $20 for seniors, and $25 for students and arts workers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by calling 416 504 9971, or in person at the box office.
- Run Time: Performance runs 90 minutes with no intermission.
- Audience Advisory: Coarse language, depictions of violence, graphic description of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and the murder of Indigenous women and girls.
Photo of Tamara Podemski and Augusto Bitter by Joseph Michael Photography